Marketing Trauma

In the years since writing my second novel, To the Left of Death, I’ve found there are additional challenges in marketing trauma based stories.

To the Left of Death largely focuses on surviving trauma. The central story is about a teacher who was present when a student’s father was shot and killed. It also includes stories about domestic violence, sexual harassment and assault, human trafficking, and death of a loved one.

While those are heavy topics, the main themes of the book are trauma recovery and finding supportive connections with others. At book events, I often find myself both warning readers of the dark topics in this story and reassuring them of its hopeful arc, while also trying not to give too much of the plot away.

The book cover for To the Left of Death, by Susan Quilty. It shows a woman's face, half as a pencil sketch and the half with segmented blocks of color and texture.

The Emotional Factor

In some ways, To the Left of Death, is the novel I’m most proud of writing. I put a lot of myself into the story, in various ways, and the first-person narrative made me dig deep. The narration is rambling and raw, and sometimes relayed through a haze of alcohol. It attempts to capture the feeling of post-traumatic symptoms like dissociation, depersonalization, and memory loss. In short, it is an emotional book.

When selling the book, I hope that it will resonate in a positive way with people who live with their own post traumatic stress responses. I also worry it might be an upsetting read for those who prefer to shut out the messier parts of our world. Or that it will be dismissed as being too heavy. Which it might be for some readers, though I’ve often been surprised by the positive responses I’ve gotten from people I had expected to pass on such an emotionally-fraught story.

The Credibility Factor

While I drew on many of my own trauma experiences, I sometimes fear potential readers will say, Who are you to write about trauma? I suspect that’s a fear for many people when marketing trauma based stories.

To combat that fear, I’m tempted to lean into my personal story. I had a traumatic adolescence. I live with complex PTSD. I’ve spent decades in and out of therapy, learning how to have a happy, functional life while accepting that elements of my past trauma will always be part of who I am.

Yet, I’m cautious in saying too much about my life experiences because my private life is not open to public dissection. When I do share thoughts on my own trauma (like this post or this one), it’s on my own terms.

The Identity Factor

As humans, we all want to be seen and accepted for who we are. Trauma, especially in childhood and adolescence, can cause complicated identity issues. Some of us have had to work very hard at learning to see and accept parts of ourselves that survived intense trauma. Part of healing may include sharing trauma experiences without shame, but we also don’t want to be defined by those experiences.

As an author, I want to bring my personal knowledge of trauma into some of what I write, but I don’t want that to turn me into a spokesperson for trauma survivors. I am not a mental health professional or an expert in the field of trauma. I can only speak from my own experiences, which will be different for other people.

Furthermore, I am a novelist. I write fiction. My novels are not memoirs. Readers will hopefully find an authenticity to my writing, but sharing fictional stories is very different than sharing actual stories from my life. Admitting that I draw from my trauma experiences is not an invitation to push for information about my private life or make assumptions about who I am.

The Judgment Factor

Sadly, some people are insensitive jerks. They judge everyone through their narrow perspective and ignorance. They make fun of trigger warnings and therapy. Sometimes, they claim survivors are trying to cash in on their trauma. They might claim PTSD is made-up or a weakness of character. Or they set a narrow definition of what counts (in their minds) as trauma.

Their ignorance is as vast as their mouths are loud.

These trolls are best left ignored, but their callous comments can still hurt. They often trigger internal doubts. Was my trauma really that bad? Other people have survived worse. Is there something wrong with me? While I have tools to manage those doubts and the associated trauma responses, they can still be painful.

Overall, the benefits of sharing novels that tap into my trauma experiences outweigh the challenges. But I still struggle with marketing trauma based stories, like To the Left of Death.

If you have supportive thoughts or suggestions, I’d like to hear them. If you’re interested in reading To the Left of Death, you can find an excerpt and buying options here.

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